, Volume 121, Issue 4, pp 701-711

Population ecology and secondary production of the polychaete Loimia medusa (Terebellidae)

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In soft-sediment marine and estuarine habitats, population dynamics of resident species are an important aspect of commnity structure and function, yet the population dynamics of many members of these communities remain poorly studied. The population dynamics and secondary production of the infaunal terebellid polychaete Loimia medusa (Savigny) were investigated in a shallow sand habitat of the York River, Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, between June 1989 and December 1990. Monthly sampling throughout 1 yr revealed that individuals were present year-round with maximum densities of 60 ind m-2 and a life span of 1 yr. Abundances were highest from August through September when two cohorts recruited to the population. Mean individual growth was highest in summer, and appeared to be a function of temperature rather than food limitation. Adults were reproductive from May through October and exhibited high fecundity; the number of oocytes segment-1 ranged from 201 to 15840 among worms. Larvae initially appeared approximately 1 mo after gametes were first observed in adult L. medusa, and these larvae appeared to spend less than 1 mo in the plankton. Abundances of larvae in the water column were significantly higher around new moon, suggesting lunar spawning periodicity. New recruits attained sexual maturity within 2 mo of settlement. Secondary production was 3.3 g ash-free dry wt m-2 yr-1 and the P/B (production/biomass) ratio was 3.0. Despite equilibrium species characteristics such as large size, high fecundity, and planktonic larvae, L. medusa exhibits some characteristics typically ascribed to opportunistic species, namely, the capacity for rapid growth and maturation, a short life span and a relatively high P/B ratio. This mixture of life history characteristics emphasizes that there is no simple dichotomy between opportunistic and equilibrium species. We caution that the dominance of large infaunal polychaetes in soft-bottom estuarine and marine environments may not be a useful indicator of undisturbed habitats.

Communicated by J. P. Grassle, New Brunswick